Review: ‘The Carrie Diaries’: Handle with care
If last week’s second episode was slightly below where the pilot fell on the Scale of Things That Are Good (TM), this week’s outing fell to the middle of the scale. It wasn’t a bad episode per se, it just wasn’t as good as the previous two. Not only did it feel stretched too thin as the writers tried to service all of the characters, but Carrie’s voice-overs are becoming more intrusive, encroaching on the meat of the story and making it difficult to let anything just be.
It takes a special kind of show to pull off the voice-over. There’s a balance that has to happen so that it enhances the show, rather than detracting from it. ‘Veronica Mars’ is a good example this. Veronica’s sly remarks in every episode were helpful, especially in the beginning, in planting the back-story of the characters (“And let’s not forget Logan Echolls. Every school has an obligatory psychotic jackass. He’s ours.”)
As time went on they helped deliver the real message of the episode (“So what would Stan Marsh say in a situation like this? I think we all learned a valuable lesson about faith. You give it to the people you love. But the people who really deserve it are the ones who come through, even when you don’t love them enough.”) much like ‘The Carrie Diaries’ is attempting to do.
But the problem with ‘The Carrie Diaries’ is that instead of being ‘Veronica Mars,’ they’re ‘Burn Notice.’* They’re not adding to the story the way they should, they don’t guide viewers through the episode. No, the voice-overs are acting as really bad segues (“While someone was about to show their box, another one was being decorated.”)
In other instances, particularly the ones that close out the episodes, they’re acting as a hammer, banging viewers over the head to painfully spell out the episode’s metaphors. The subtleties that come from letting viewers watch the show and make their own inferences is important. My hope is that eventually the writers will achieve this balance and stop shoving the messages of the episode down viewers’ throats. Because the show has the potential to be very good.
Take this week’s continuation of the Carrie and Baby Fish Mouth (BFM) saga. After Good Looking Dad forbade Carrie from seeing BFM last week, Carrie is determined to figure out his reasoning. Instead of just sneaking around behind her father’s back like most teenagers would do, Carrie has to get to the bottom of everything (mistake #1). She can’t just be happy secretly dating a hot dude, and so she pushes and pushes until she discovers that BFM is one of her dad’s clients. And because Good Looking Dad isn’t a normal lawyer who keeps his files in, say, an office, and instead houses them in the linen closet with a key stashed on a top shelf, Carrie is able to break in to them in the middle of the night and read BFM’s file (mistake #2).
As it turns out, Carrie would have been better off having never read BFM’s file. There’s a reason the saying, “ignorance is bliss” exists, but perhaps Carrie never heard that one before. Anyway, she discovers that BFM had an affair with his art history teacher at his previous school and that’s why he’s slumming it in Connecticut with Carrie and Friends. And again, because she is Carrie she has to analyze this piece of information. She talks about it with her friends (mistake #3) to which Rosie Larsen responds that it might be beneficial to be with someone who is more experienced and knows what to do (she should know, as she’s been hooking up with Random Cop Guy on the side). Mouse, in her adorable inexperienced nerdiness, thinks this is completely disgusting and tells Carrie she can’t date BFM anymore. This is coming from the girl who lost her virginity over the summer to a college guy named Seth (most on that later).
Carrie pretends that this new information doesn’t bother her and goes to meet up with Baby Fish Mouth in a park where they can listen to his Walkman that has two headphone jacks (I won’t lie, I kind of miss those old school headphones that you used to have to stretch to fit your head. My head was always so small that they were constantly too big and I had to readjust them all the time. Also, they kind of hurt your head after awhile. Whatever, I MISS THE ’80S/’90S!). In the middle of a slightly awkward/kind of hot makeout session, Carrie stops to ask where he learned how to kiss the way he does. He responds with the most common answer, “I had a good teacher.” Cue the Carrie freakout. She jumps back and bolts away claiming that she just really has to go.
And what does a girl freaking out about her more experienced boyfriend do? She calls up Martha Jones and heads to New York City where she enters a world far more depraved and dirty than anything BFM probably ever did with his art history teacher. Martha Jones takes Carrie, Mouse and Mouse’s boyfriend Seth to a performance art exhibit in which a former porn star is “taking back her vagina” by charging people a penny to see said vagina. I don’t know? Don’t ask me. I don’t understand performance art.
When it gets to be Mouse’s turn, she balks and runs out of the party with her boyfriend on her heels (turns out he didn’t want to be there anymore than she did). Carrie does significantly better and does indeed pay the penny (given to her by Martha Jones, Purple Lipstick Aficionado) to see the famous hooha that’s been in tons of films. But when she sees it, she doesn’t compare it to her own equipment, instead she likens it to the drawings in her health textbook. For a girl whose father just had to buy tampons for her earlier in the episode, you’d think she’d know a bit more about her own anatomy, but hey, whatever!
This entire scene is about owning one’s power – apparently all power stems from a woman’s ladybits – and makes Carrie question how to harness her own power. She (incorrectly) assumes that her power is that she’s her own woman and her father cannot rightfully tell her who she can and cannot date. But when she stands up to him (after waiting up until some random ungodly hour – Good Looking Dad was out at a singles bar with Max Medina) and tells him that she knows about Baby Fish Mouth’s case and doesn’t care (mistake #4), Good Looking Dad informs her that A) what she did was illegal, B) she’s 16 and he’s still her father, and C) he no longer trusts her. These are all valid arguments.
Despite all of this, Carrie still goes to meet with BFM the next day and actually tells him that she knows about his sordid affair (mistake #5) and is surprised when he’s angry that she would dig into his private life (the fact that he didn’t even know he had a lawyer because his parents never told him they hired one to cover up the affair is beside the point) and then feel the need to talk and analyze the relationship to death. Baby Fish Mouth promptly breaks up with Carrie and dramatically walks away (but hopefully not forever).
Carrie, girl, I know that your mom just died, but she had to have taught you a couple things about being a woman besides the proper use for tampons. Such as, 1) you never tell someone you’ve been snooping in their stuff, 2) you never tell the person you were snooping on that you were snooping on them, and 3) you don’t then try to rationalize the snooping. There is a reason we have secrets. All of this could have been prevented if Carrie had just acted like a normal teenage girl and dated BFM behind Good Looking Dad’s back. She’d have had much more time to explore and experience everything BFM learned from his art history teacher if she’d have acted like a teenager instead of constantly analyzing life and focusing on the labels everyone carries around.
From what I’ve seen of ‘Sex and the City,’ this is something adult Carrie Bradshaw does a lot though, right? She over-analyzes everything. I can understand why they’d want to give young Carrie this character trait, but it’s part of the reason I was so turned off by the original series. This constant need to talk about everything and pick it apart to try to figure out the deeper meaning is a character flaw. And when it’s paired with the intrusive voice-overs (also a carry over from the original series), it makes me a little uneasy about my future with this show. I thoroughly enjoy the characters, and I’m all for the development of said characters – even Good Looking Dad – but I’m not a fan of the way the writers are hammering these aspects down our throats, especially so early on in the series.
It would have been enough if the show had just let the viewer walk away and make their own inferences as to how Carrie screwed up and what lessons she learned from this clusterfuck. But the voice-over kicked in and had to spell out for us just what exactly she did wrong. It wasn’t as if she was summarizing the big life lesson (PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE TOO. SOMETIMES SECRETS ARE SECRETS. DON’T READ CONFIDENTIAL FILES.) in an eloquent way. It felt more like an English essay by a 7th grader who was trying really, really hard to be profound and make A Statement (AKA the mission statement of Livejournal). If the show can find a way to balance the voice-overs with the emotional meat of the episode, then by all means, keep them in. But if they’re just going to be heavy-handed summaries, please leave them by the wayside.
Some stray observations:
- Walt was absent after last week’s breakup with Rosie Larsen. Which seems stupid because they shoved every other character in. You either go all in or you learn how to pick and select characters to highlight each week. With a cast that includes the Bradshaws (Carrie, Young Dana Brody, Good Looking Dad) and three friends (Mouse, Rosie Larsen, Walt) and a Love Interest (Baby Fish Mouth), the writers need to find a way to service all of them in ways that will be beneficial to their characters. Slapping in stories with barely any meat does no one any favors.
- Rosie Larsen, turns out, is kind of a drama queen and resorted to mutilating Bear Bear and drawing mustaches on old photographs of Walt in order to relieve some of the pain brought on by the breakup. Carrie, of course, predicted this would happen, which annoys Rosie Larsen, but this storyline ultimately ended with a pretty sweet team up with Young Dana Brody so I’m OK with that. I hope their adventures with bologna and hamsters continue.
- Oh yeah, Young Dana Brody shoplifted a hamster. His name is Morrissey. Really wish they hadn’t had to explain the reference. But hey, this is 2013 masquerading as 1984. I sometimes forget most of this show’s target demographic wasn’t even born in 1984.
What did you guys think? Do you mind the voice-overs or do you find them heavy-handed? How long do you think Sebastian will stay gone? And did hamsters really cost only $2.00 in 1984?
*When ‘Burn Notice’ first premiered, the voice-overs were fun. They were informational and tied together the life of a spy with common sense ideas that common folk could understand. They were a vehicle to help viewers relate to the show. But as time has gone on, these voice-overs have become less helpful. They’re bordering more on the side of annoying than anything.
Photo: Barbara Craig Blankenhorn/The CW